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Portmore not ready for parish status, say mayor and MP

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Portmore not ready for parish status, say mayor and MP

… while another MP bats for upgrade

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, November 05, 2020

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MAYOR of Portmore Leon Thomas and Member of Parliament (MP) for St Catherine Southern Fitz Jackson say the idea of making Portmore a parish is premature at this time as the municipality has far too many issues that must be addressed before putting that proposal on the table.

Thomas says the status as the fifteenth parish would bring no benefit to Portmore, and that the Government should focus on making the council autonomous from central government, so that it can run it’s own affairs.

Both the mayor and the Opposition MP say there has been no clamour from residents for parish status, since the town became a municipality in 2003.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a motion brought by Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie for a special select committee to deliberate on the proposal.

Jackson stressed that there was never any move from the People’s National Party (PNP) Administration in 2003, to give Portmore municipality status, and that it was an initiative of the residents, which the Government had simply supported and facilitated.

“What the PNP did was embrace the proposal, because we appreciated the merit to the argument. They wanted a local authority that could address all the issues that affect them,” he said, stressing that municipalities should be born out of consultation.

He dismissed the proposal as premature and a ploy by the current Administration, arguing that what residents are more concerned with is effective governance.

Jackson noted that the first time the issue of parish status for Portmore was raised was by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding in 2007, and that when the PNP took office in 2011, the matter was never on its agenda because there was no push from residents.

The MP said Portmore has been doing well, and that the Government, instead of bestowing meaningless parish status on the municipality, should focus on strengthening local governance there.

“That’s what we must focus on, how to become better stewards of the system rather than get into symbolism,” he insisted.

According to Mayor Thomas, “There is nothing now that any parish is getting that we are not getting.”

“Portmore, at this time, has lacked a whole lot of things, and we should be looking at putting in those…there are a lot of things that are missing. The minister needs to talk to us about a market, we need to have our local board of health and poor relief department; we also need to have our NIS [National Insurance Scheme] office, hospital, and…try other things that are within a parish,” said Thomas, adding that with these critical structures in place, the Government can then move to wide consultation with residents and other stakeholders on parish status.

However, he said any deliberation on this proposal should include extensive consultation as a key element of the process.

Jackson said the Government should make clear what the prerequisites are for parish status, as well as the goals for the municipality before charging ahead with the proposal.

He further argued that when far-reaching legislative changes such as these are being proposed there must be wide political, community and stakeholder consultations.

On the other hand, St Catherine East Central MP Alando Terrelonge believes there is every reason for Portmore to receive parish status.

He said, among other things, parish status will be the impetus for infrastructural and institutional development.

For him, parish status is as matter of identity.

“When persons [are] asked, ‘Where are you from?’ They say Portmore, they don’t say St Catherine. They identify themselves as apart from St Catherine. It’s a question of independence. Even the municipal council of Portmore, they’re still tied back to the St Catherine Municipal Corporation,” he argued.

Terrelonge said that if Portmore becomes Jamaica’s 15th parish, the question of a hospital, for example, would have to be addressed, as this is an imperative for any parish.

He refuted the idea that parish status is symbolic, and stressed that it is a revolutionary move that would take Portmore “to that next level” of becoming a modern parish.

The MP said, too, that it is time to stop referring to a municipality as a “dormitory” community and, instead, refer to it as a “residential community” — rightfully recognising it as a community that is making significant contribution to the country’s revenue and, therefore, deserving of a greater share of the national budget.

He pointed out that with parish status Portmore would attract more resources, and attention would be given to the infrastructural problems that have plagued the municipality for many years.

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